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The 22 Best Backpacks for College Students, According to Actual College Students

Picking the best backpack for college students can get pretty tricky. Of course, you want to look stylish, but you’ll also be using the bag for at least a year and possibly beyond, depending on how well you get on with it.

Therefore, choosing college backpacks that check all the right boxes is important.

The SPY team has tested a lot of men’s backpacks in 2022, but to choose the best backpacks for college students specifically, we asked a number of current students what they want in a backpack.

When looking for a new backpack for college, incoming first year at Western Washington University Mason Van Vleet told SPY, “Before classes began, I was looking for a backpack that had space for textbooks, a padded sleeve for my new laptop, a place to hold my water bottle and something that felt rugged enough to use for other things outside of school.” While these are critical factors, note that the best backpacks for college students should rest comfortably on your shoulders throughout the day and be durable enough to last several semesters. “For my first year, I chose a backpack from Osprey, and I think it’s perfect,” Van Vleet said.

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Student opening a Herschel Supply Co. backpack. Tyler Schoeber | SPY

Here’s when we wondered: do backpacks for college students differ too much depending on what year you’re in? Honestly, not really. Senior Matt Ventrelli at Illinois Institute of Technology more or less tells us the same thing regarding space for books, laptops and water bottles. “The only real difference is I have fewer books and folders in my backpack because, over the years, I’ve learned which types of classes I actually need to buy textbooks for,” Ventrelli said.

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If you’re unsure what you want or need in your bag, it’s worth checking out SPY’s guide to ensure you pick the right backpack. Deciding between looks, function, comfort, and capacity are all important factors to consider before you commit your cash.

To help you decide, SPY put together a list of the best backpacks for college students in 2022. We have SPY-tested bags from top brands like Day Owl and Fjallraven alongside budget buys and lesser-known commuter options. Of course, we also had to include the trendiest backpack of 2022, the suddenly popular Carhartt Legacy Work Backpack, pictured below.

In total, we selected 22 stylish, comfortable and spacious college backpacks. Check out all 22 and decide which option is best for your college experience.

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Student carrying the Carhartt Legacy Standard Work Backpack. Tyler Schoeber | SPY

1. Day Owl Backpack


By keeping it casual in 2022, you’re keeping it trendy. Fashion trends nowadays are all about ease and comfort, and with this effortlessly cool Day Owl backpack, you’ll be hitting the nail on the head. It has a pretty mundane exterior that helps you merge into the crowd of people on campus, all while containing multiple secret pockets and a recycled canvas. It even comes with a lifetime of free repairs, so no matter how many times you rip it, Day Owl will fix it for you.

We love Day Owl so much that we named it one of the best products in The 2021 Man, SPY’s end-of-year product awards. We’ve spent over a year testing this backpack, and we can verify it’s durability and comfort.

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Courtesy of Day Owl


2. Herschel Supply Co. Pop Quiz Laptop Backpack


If you head to any college campus in the United States today, you’ll find a sea of Herschel Supply Co. backpacks. You’ll also find several options from these companies on this list for the simple reason that these companies make great backpacks for college students. This option from Herschel is well-reviewed, large enough to hold a 15-inch laptop, durable and on-trend. However, it’s also an unpretentious backpack, perfect as an everyday carryall for class. 

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Courtesy of Amazon


3. Carhartt Legacy Standard Work Backpack


It’s safe to say we’re obsessed with Carhartt. How could you not be? The brand is just too damn cool. That said, we love this water-repellent backpack made for any college student, and we’ve seen this backpack everywhere in 2022. It has an enormous main compartment with room for a 15-inch laptop and two front pockets. Colors are limited to neutrals, but that’s all you need from a Carhartt backpack. Trust us, anything too eclectic is a no-no with this brand.

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Courtesy of Amazon


4. Mancro Laptop Backpack


Surely over 15,000 people can’t be wrong? The Mancro Laptop Backpack has an impressive number of five-star reviews and sports a simple yet stylish design, which provides a versatility that few other bags can achieve. There’s a wealth of pockets for comfortable storage of everything from your smartphone and laptop (up to 15.6″) to a bottle, an umbrella and even your lunch. The smart bag also sports an easy-to-carry handle on top, a padlock for security and a built-in USB port for easy charging.

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Courtesy of Amazon


5. JanSport SuperBreak One Backpack


The JanSport SuperBreak One Backpack is the right choice if you are after a classic college backpack. It’s available in various colors and features one main compartment and a front accessory pocket. Furthermore, the bag’s straps are padded for comfort, and there’s a top-mounted carry handle for alternative carrying options. Plus, it’s a No. 1 best seller on Amazon with almost 25,000 five-star reviews.

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Courtesy of Amazon


6. Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack


As mentioned, incoming freshman Mason Van Vleet is starting his college career with Osprey. The brand’s Daylite Plus Daypack is likely the best option they provide for students that enjoy an on-the-go lifestyle just as much as they can be found studying in the library. Containing a padded section for your laptop, multiple stretchy mesh areas for additional storage and colors as far as the eye can see, this is a great option for students to bring from the classroom to the trails to the gym to the weekend away.

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Courtesy of Amazon


7. The North Face Borealis Backpack


Hauling around a heavy bag usually takes a nasty toll on your back, especially if you do it daily. That’s why we love this spacious option from North Face. This nylon and polyester backpack features adjustable shoulder straps that boast an extra foam layer. The bag also has a padded back panel with a spine channel that’s even been endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association. If you pick this one up, your back will thank us later. Plus, it’s dang cool.

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Courtesy of Amazon


8. Bellroy Classic Backpack


Bellroy is our favorite men’s wallet brand, but the company debuted a new line of EDC items and bags in Spring 2022, including the new Classic Backpack. We’ll be honest — at first glance, this looks a lot like similar Incase laptop backpacks. However, it’s a full $60 cheaper and has every single feature we look for in the best college backpacks, including a range of stylish color options.

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Courtesy of Amazon


9. Topo Designs Daypack Classic


Topo Designs is best known for its more colorful backpacks, and while the brand’s classic Daypack is a little more, let’s say, matchy, it still comes in plenty of colorways. We especially love the blue-and-khaki pictured below, as well as the minty green Mineral Blue colorway. This eco-friendly bag is made from recycled materials and has everything we look for in a college backpack. Water bottle holder? Yep. Padded laptop sleeve? Yes sir. Stylish design? Absolutely.

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Courtesy of Topo Designs

10. Fjallraven Kanken Backpack


You can never go wrong with the Classic Fjallraven backpack, today, tomorrow or ever. The Kanken is a must-have backpack for college students. Look around your campus right now — you’ll spot at least three of these passing by. They’re as popular as it gets. The bag sports various carrying options, including tote handles and straps, two open side pockets and a rain flap for protection from the elements. Inside, there’s ample central storage space, a place to store a 15-inch laptop and an info tag, so your bag is easy to identify if you lose it.

And if you’re more of the eco-leaning type, we highly recommend checking out Fjallraven’s Tree Kanken backpack as well.

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Courtesy of Amazon


11. Lululemon City Adventurer Backpack


Suppose you’re just as concerned with setting a personal record on your bench press as you are setting a personal record in class. In that case, this City Adventurer backpack from Lululemon will be a great companion. Designed to be both an athletic bag and a stellar backpack for college students, you’re getting the best of both worlds without sacrificing either. An exterior padded pocket allows room for a 15″ laptop, while an expandable pocket has enough room for all your sweaty gear. And with its minimalist design and range of colorways, it’ll look as good in the gym room as it does in the classroom. Just because it isn’t your standard gym bag doesn’t mean it won’t work for workouts.

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Courtesy of lululemon


12. Dakine Verge Backpack


So, you’re the type that brings it all to class? You know, the kind of guy who packs for the whole day, night and next day — just in case. Then, you’re going to need to take a look at the 32L Dakine Verge Backpack. Built with storage for multiple laptops, tablets, smartphones and accessories as far as the eye can see, you can practically run your own Apple store with this pack. In addition, this has a huge interior pocket to shove any clothing item you might need to bring inside for a worry-free day out on campus. With this pack, there’s never any feeling of, “aw, I should have brought that” because, with Dakine, you can fit it.

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Courtesy of Amazon


13. Fjallraven Raven 28 Backpack


The Fjallraven Raven 28 model is ideal for kids in college. Designed specifically for students, this backpack comes with a pocket for 15″ laptops and extra compartments for textbooks, snacks and anything else you need during a long day on campus. This model doesn’t come in as many fun colors as other bags from Fjallraven, but it’s a durable and stylish laptop backpack. And at $110, it’s an affordable bag for most college students and is undoubtedly one of the best Fjallraven backpacks.

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Courtesy of Fjallraven


14. Vessel Skyline Backpack


Minimalists will geek over this gorgeously sleek faux-leather backpack designed with water-resistant technology. The lustrous black exterior is so eye-popping that you forget it’s just a backpack. This baby has one large opening and an outside front bottom zip for extra stuff you’re bringing to class. When it rains or snows, you won’t even have to worry about the interior contents getting wet due to the water-resistant construction.

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Courtesy of Nordstrom


15. Monos Metro Backpack


We’re swooning at this handsome all-black backpack from Monos. From on-campus dwellers to on-time commuters, a smaller bag is ideal for the kind of guy who doesn’t need to bring it all. Fit your keys and wallet in the front pouch while sliding your 15-inch laptop and a few notebooks in the larger zipped interiors. You’ll look great, and your back will thank you for carrying less. It’s also available in several colors, including black, green, blue and gray nylon finishes and brown, tan and ivory vegan leather exteriors.

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Courtesy of Monos


16. Herschel Little America Mid-Volume Backpack


With over 20 color combinations to choose from, the Herschel Little America Mid-Volume Backpack allows the wearer to express their personality through their backpack. These college backpacks also sport buckled top straps and front-facing pockets to add to the bags’ impressive rucksack style. On the front pocket, there’s a Herschel brand patch for a classy finish. The bag’s straps are padded for comfort, and the top pocket features a drawstring to ensure your belongings are always secure inside.

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Courtesy of Amazon


17. Vorspack Clear Backpack


Bare it all in a clear pack that shows you don’t give a crap if people know what you’re lugging around. Popularized in recent years at concerts and music festivals, clear backpacks are now necessary for many big events. Snag one for any music festival you have coming up this year, or unapologetically show off that 14-cent Lisa Frank notebook you bought from Staples.

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Courtesy of Amazon


18. Everlane ReNew Transit Backpack


With a unique design and neutral charcoal color, Everlane’s ReNew Transit Backpack is a trendy, compact sack made from 100% recycled polyester with a water-resistant finish. And get this, there’s a discreet internal zipper laptop sleeve to ensure your MacBook stays safe and sound. Whether you’re on the way to a full-time position or you spilled your entire coffee on a woman’s lap on the A train, stay looking cool and confident with a backpack made to tackle whatever kind of day you’re having.

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Courtesy of Everlane


19. Patagonia Black Hole Backpack


Patagonia has long been known for its commitment to durable, high-quality and environmentally-friendly bags, and that tradition is alive and well in the Black Hole Backpack. At 25L, it’s got a massive amount of storage, which means you’ll be able to toss anything and everything you can think of in there without worry. A padded 15″ laptop sleeve allows clear division inside the bag, so things don’t get too messy. Plus, the 100% recycled polyester ripstop has been coated with a TPU laminate that will hold up well in the elements.

Read More: Why We Love the Black Hole Sling Bag So Much

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Courtesy of Patagonia


20. XRAY Expandable Roll Top Backpack


Drawing from classic military-style bags, this backpack from XRAY is a modern update on a vintage favorite. The rolltop closure evokes that old-school style bag while incorporating modern features like a waterproof outer and space to keep your laptop. Its toned-down, all-green design is excellent for those that aren’t into super bold colors. And, as with all college backpacks, there are plenty of pockets for storing all your various items.

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Courtesy of Amazon


21. Herschel Dawson Backpack


What makes the Dawson backpack different from other Herschel bags is that the front features two separate pockets instead of one large front compartment, so you’ll be able to throw your earbuds and keys in one pocket and your pens in the other. The 20.5L main compartment features a drawstring closure with a foam lining for added protection. The backpack comes in various color combinations, from classic black and tan to a vibrant Monaco blue and many others.

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Courtesy of Amazon


22. MATEIN Rolling Backpack


We know there’s a considerable vendetta against rolling backpacks, but hear us out. Textbooks can get heavy! Might as well roll them and save your back from any pain. MATEIN makes a, dare we say, stylish rolling backpack for college students. It comes in an all-black coloration, has all of the bells and whistles you can ask for in a backpack and can even be worn as a regular backpack in case you don’t want to use its rolling powers in front of others.

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Courtesy of Amazon


Updates: This article was last updated on September 1. At that time, we added additional quotes after interviewing college students about their favorite backpacks. We also added original photos featuring some of our top college backpacks. Finally, we added two additional options. We replaced the Friendly Swede Waterproof Backpack with the new Bellroy Classic Backpack. We also added the Topo Designs Classic Backpack. Finally, we included additional purchase links and updated pricing on all of our selections.


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